20 Mule Team

Ghosts of the Past 4

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20-Mule Team video - Courtesy of Caroline Gardner
caroline gardner
Caroline Gardner
caroline gardner
Caroline Gardner

 God Made Mules - A Purpose
by Harold O. Weight

Pacific Coast Borax Company exhibition team on the East Coast in 1919.
(photo by Tex Ewell who drove the team)

The line mule who controls the team.
(photo by C. C. Pierce)

 Johnny O'Keefe
Johnny O'Keefe riding the wheeler of the 20 mule team which he drove both over the San Francisco Bay Bridge and down into Death Valley in 1937.
(photo by Tex Ewell)

 Tex Ewell
Tex Ewell with his riding mule.
(photo by Harold O. Weight)

 Wagon ruts
Ruts made by the 20 mule team in the Mojave Desert
(photo by Harold O. Weight)

 Pilot Knob
Pilot Knob in the Mojave Desert, guide post for the 20 mule team.
(photo by Harold O. Weight)

 Bill Shadley
William Shadley (left). A driver who died violently on one trip and is buried at Windy Gap

(photo from Illustrated Sketches of Death Valley)

Sydney Smith writes:

Just found your site, and was surprised to find words and pictures of Tex Ewell. Tex and Glenna Ewell were very dear friends; they are both dead now; Tex some 25 years ago or so and Glenna just last year, at the age of 101! I spent many enjoyable hours with Tex and Glenna, on and off horseback, when I was in high school and college in the 1960s and early 70s. Tex was a fine human being and an exceptional horseman. He had a world-class bit collection and horse related library, both of which are unfortunately probably well dispersed by now. Tex wasn't just a muleskinner, he spent time in the cavalry during WWI (veterinary corps) and also in Texas and Mexico during the Pancho Villa escapades. Tex was one of the foundation Arab horse breeders in this country; he had lots of Arabian horses including a stallion named Akil whose bloodlines are much valued today by the legacy Arab breeders. Tex roamed all over the country via horseback and packhorse and horse-drawn vehicle, in the days when it was still possible to do that. He led a very rich life indeed and I certainly feel fortunate to have been able to spend some time listening to stories and pouring through the library.

June 2004

 Tales of Twenty Mule Days
by Harold O. Weight

Twenty Mule Team Drivers
(from Harold O. Weight's "20 Mule Team Days in Death Valley")
This list of long line skinners were ones that either Tex Ewel or L. Burr Belden knew.

Salty Bill Parkinson (Borax Bill)
Bill Kibbitts
Frank Tilton
John Pyle
Red Pyle
Manuel Rogers
Frank Wilson
Ed Stiles
Ira Moon
Jim Small
Johnny O'Keffe
Chris Nelson
Tom Elwood
Walter Smith
John Delameter
Sam Yount
Eph Beardslee
Charles White
Charles Cortwright
Jeff Riggs
Ed Pitcher
Miles Thomas
Seymour Alf
Tex Ewel
William Shadley
Emery Fleming Morris
Edwin A. McIntosh
According to Tex Ewel, all of the good long line skinners were quiet. "The whooping and hoo-rawing skinner was invariably just a damned poor teamster."

borax bill"Ira Moon, now, driving that twenty mule borax team - I never heard him raise his voice above a conversational tone. Fifty feet away you couldn't hear him call the pointers back and forth across the chain. But when he spoke, a mule knew he wasn't fooling and acted accordingly. All the good drivers I knew had a confidence in their own abilities. They were quiet men."

Borax Bill [pdf]

Richard Ford of British Columbia, Canada Writes


My grandfather was a teamster in the early days. I am 60 and he died in '46, I believe, so I did not get to know him. One day in the '50s I was watching Death valley Days on early black and white television, and the thought struck me: "how in the heck do they manage to get all those nags, wagons, etc. around the tight mountainous curves?" I asked my pa, who had been told by his pa, that essentially the twenty mule team was split (by a singletree, I s'pose) into two groups 10/10 lengthwise and when confronted with tight curves the skinners would dismount, unhitch the first (or second set-can't remember) of 10 mules and walk them around said curve a ways up until they had straight road ahead and behind. The lead teamster would then ride the acting lead )right hand) mule and the parade of 10 mules, wagons and teamsters around the bend and the whole caboodle would finally link up with the first group and off they'd go. The only drawback to this move was the second set of mules had to haul TWICE the tonnage for a bit. Tough old mules and just as tough as so resourceful skinners! In tha 130 degreed heat it had to be hell as well as labor intensive. Thought I'd pass along this little pear of info along to you as I didn't see it mentioned.

Thanks a bunch,

Richard Ford
November 2008

Patty Deal of Hemet, CA writes:

My uncle Em (Emery Fleming Morris 1859 - ?) was one of the 20 mule team drivers. His parents were James Campbell Morris (1827-1909) and Mary Catherine Moore (1832 - ?). My great great grandparent's daughter, Alice Morris (1854 - 1934) married William Lanzo Becktel (1854 - 1944). They had eight children (4 sons & 4 daughters). One of the sons, James (Uncle Jim) Becktel had the ranch. They all loved coming to Uncle Jim's ranch in Palmdale, along with many celebrities, relatives, and guests. Uncle Jim had three homes on property neat as a pin. Jim's house was a large two story with a 2nd story filled with beds. Downstairs were 3 bedrooms and a living room and kitchen where Uncle Jim cooked for all. They had a lovely bathroom with gold fixtures but you still had to use the outhouse for the toilet! The house was filled with antiques and it was a treat to visit. Uncle "Em" had his own squeaky clean house about 200 or so feet from the main house.

Uncle Jim was written about a lot by the local newspapers because he kept the county road graded. He also contributed to the Knotts [Berry Farm] family throughout the years.

"It Happened Around Here" by Dennis H. Stovall

emery morris
Emery Fleming Morris

Uncle Jim
Uncle Jim

Gary McIntosh of Bremerton, WA writes:

My great grandfather Edwind Albert McIntosh came to Nevada in 1871 to find his father Ruluf Crane McIntosh, who came to Lodi, California in 1849. Edwin found Ruluf in Virginia City where Ruluf had moved to and owned a saloon. My father said his grandfather, Edwin, told him he found his father, Ruluf, for the first time playing cards. When Edwin introduced himself to his father Ruluf and told him he was his son, Ruluf said: "Let me finish my hand," which he did, and then they shook hands.

"Edwin was born in McHenry County, Illinois, in 1848. In 1871 he went to Nevada to Pioche and Candelaria and in the boom days he drove quartz teams. He started hauling freight from Wadsworth to Bellville and Candelaria and Old Gold Mountain in 1880, a distance of 240 miles with 16, 18, and some times 20 mule teams. He hauled borax to his destination and on the return trip hauled freight for Frank "Borax" Smith from Marietta to Wadsworth, a distance of 130 miles. In 1881 he occupied himself by hauling railroad freight from Hawthorne to Bodie and a year later he hauled water to the mines above Marietta.

Another chapter in his colorful early day career started in 1883 when he started prospecting for borax in Death Valley. At that time it was readily agreed that the valley certainly deserved its name.

The summer of 1883 found Edwin coming to California where he first worked in the grain warehouses as a weigher, sampler and foreman at Port Costa and Stockton. He continued this occupation until 1903 when he moved his family to San Francisco. He later started teaming in Tonopah, Nevada. He hauled lumber from Tonopah to build the boom town of Goldfield.

In the fall of 1905 his interest returned him to San Francisco and he started working as a packer in the Illinois Pacific Glass Works. He remained in San Francisco until 1926 when he retired from active business and and moved to Willits where he made his home until his death."

Ruluf left Illinois for California before Edwin was born. Ruluf died in Modesto in 1896 and is buried in Stockton. My Dad was a wonderful father and adored his grandfather, Edwin. My Dad passed away 15 years ago from Lou Gerhigs' disease. My Dad traveled to Death Valley and all points in the area 20 years ago looking for information about his grandfather. All to no avail. Edwin and his wife, and my grandfather were living in San Francisco during the earthquake in 1906. They lived south of the "slot" (Market Street) and lost their house. Edwin made a bit of extra money with his team and wagon moving freight through the city after the earthquake. My Dad said his grandfather worked until he was 78, when he thought he had enough money to last until the end (1939). His wife, my Great Grandmother, lived with my family when I was young. She passed away in 1959 at the ripe old age of 98!

November 2003
Text in red is from the October 20, 1939 edition of The Willits News of Mendocino County, CA

edwin family
Top L to R: Edwind Albert McIntosh, Mary Elizabeth (Robinson) McIntosh (wife), Flora Rebekah (Hudson) McIntosh (daughter-in-law)
Bottom L to R: Kenneth Gerard McIntosh (grandson), Thelma E. McIntosh (granddaughter), Dryden Hudson McIntosh (grandson)

edwin & sis
Edwin McIntosh and his sister Amelia McIntosh

 Dusty Trail
A long dusty 20 mule team trail.
(photo by Harold O. Weight)

 Harmony loading
Mule team landing at Harmony, circa 1885
(photo from The Story of the Pacific Coast Borax Company)

Shoeing mules on the trail.
(photo by C. C. Pierce)

"Death Valley Days" Old Rangers

Here are two of my favorite "Death Valley Days" TV hosts. For more information on the "Death Valley Days" radio and TV hosts etc. please visit "The Old Ranger."

Stanley Andrews
(photo courtesy "The Old Ranger")

Jack MacBryde
(photo courtesy "The Old Ranger")

1906 Borax Advertisement


The twenty-mule teams actually consisted of eighteen mules and two horses. The 500-pound-heavier horses, called "wheelers," could handle the wagon's heavy tongue better. Five sets of wagons freighted the borax 165 miles to the railhead at Mojave. A pair of wagons (excluding the water wagon) carried a payload up to 36.5 tons. The larger steel tires, 1" x 8", ware about 7' tall and 22' in circumference, each weighing 600 to 1000 pounds.
(Steve Willard photograph)

Operating from 1882 to 1889, the Harmony Borax Works was the origin point for hauling refined borax 165 miles to the railroad at Mojave on a three-week round trip.
(Ed Cooper photograph)

20 mule team

Twenty-mule team in Mineola, New York.

Photograph supplied by John Hyslop (Assistant Division Manager of the Long Island Division of the Queens Borough Public Library, April 2005).

Ghosts of the Past 1 - The 20 Mule Team  

Ghosts of the Past 2 - Owens Valley Aqueduct & Cottonwood Sawmill  

Ghosts of the Past 3 - Bruce Morgan's '49ers  

 More 20-Mule-Team History


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Manzanar High School Portraits & History


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This page was last updated on 27 August 2017